Press Room

Kirill Gerstein’s milestone summer

As summer turns to fall, Kirill Gerstein, winner of the 2010 Gilmore Artist Award, looks back on a milestone summer of high-profile engagements that generated a spate of positive press, consolidating his reputation as “one of the most respected pianists of his generation” (Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, Aug 2011). These events included debuts with the New York Philharmonic and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra; recitals at (Le) Poisson Rouge and the opening of the Toronto Summer Music Festival; and festival appearances from Colorado’s Aspen and Bravo!-Vail to the UK’s Aldeburgh and BBC Proms, by way of Canada, Switzerland, and Germany.
June saw Gerstein’s debut with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra under Maestro Yuri Temirkanov; for his New York Philharmonic debut, he gave “a brilliant, perceptive, and stunningly fresh account of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto” (New York Times) on three consecutive nights in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall with conductor Bramwell Tovey. He reprised the work with the same forces at the Bravo!-Vail Valley Music Festival. Of his New York performance, the Times observed:
“Though [Gerstein’s] artistry is fortified by comprehensive technique, he is no flashy virtuoso. Those…accustomed to hearing the Tchaikovsky as a scintillating showpiece may have had to adjust to Mr. Gerstein’s probing approach. …You never felt, as you often do in other performances, that the pianist was simply displaying how fast he could dispatch a cascade of double octaves or a burst of dizzying passagework. Every element of the piano part was organic and musical. He teased out the Schumanesque richness and contrapuntal details of the cadenza so intriguingly that you forgot how technically daunting it is.”
Another high point in June was Gerstein’s recital at (Le) Poisson Rouge, the popular Greenwich Village club. His program embraced Brahms’s Paganini Variations (both books) and Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Ophelia’s Last Dance–the work commissioned for the pianist’s world-premiere performance at last season’s Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. In a review that focused–once again–on his distinctive ability to transcend the technical demands and showmanship that often come to dominate pianists’ performances, reported that “Gerstein showed again how absolutely singular he is”:
“The piece was thunderous enough, and on the surface Mr. Gerstein could pound Russian style with little effort. But this was a Liszt which drew one in not through the great Lisztian chords, but because Mr. Gerstein played phrases with lucidity, care, and, in the ‘heavenly’ sections, with the most radiant luminosity.”
In an equally glowing review of the same concert, declared, “Gerstein filled the shoes of both café pianist and virtuoso performer. His versatility is unquestionable.”
Similar reflections greeted the pianist in July, when he opened the Toronto Summer Music Festival with a comparably formidable program, appending the Brahms and Liszt with Beethoven’s Op. 111 Sonata. As the Toronto Star explained,
“Gerstein met and surpassed the technical challenges by putting his own, very individual stamp on each piece. There was consistency in the artist’s highly articulated playing, preternaturally delicate quiet passages, and penchant for bringing out inner voices and repeated rhythms. … [that] translated into an evening of musical intoxication.”
At the Aspen Music Festival in August, Gerstein’s appearance with the Festival Orchestra led by Ingo Metzmacher inspired similarly effusive praise; according to the Aspen Times,
“Though he can play with virtuosity and power, the 31-year-old pianist was more interested in investing Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat with restraint and refinement. The result was a revelatory performance that emphasized elegance where many pianists aim for fireworks.”
Culminating his milestone summer, in late August the pianist performed Richard Strauss’s early Burleske with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov at London’s BBC Proms festival; the Guardian observed that Gerstein “attacked its virtuoso demands with a combination of brilliance and sensitivity.”
However, as the New York Times’s Tommasini warns, such sensitivity can be deceptive; numbering Gerstein among the most technically masterful of today’s impressive generation of young pianists, he cautions: “Don’t let his probing musicianship distract you. He is another of those younger technicians who have figured out everything about piano playing.”
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